Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationNorthwestern U.
Grant numberGr. 9838
Approve DateApril 30, 2019
Project TitleOubou, Hafsa, Northwestern U., The Making of a Neutral Teacher of Islam: The Politics of Neutrality, Religion, and Education in Belgium, supervised by Dr. Katherine Hoffman
HAFSA OUBOU, then a graduate student at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, was awarded funding in April 2019 to aid research on “The Making of a Neutral Teacher of Islam: The Politics of Neutrality, Religion, and Education in Belgium,” supervised by Dr. Katherine Hoffman. This research examines how the intersection of education, religion, and race—in public schools in Belgium—shapes religious and ethnic minorities. After the 2016 attacks in Brussels, teachers of Islam and imams (prayer leaders) have become subjects of discrimination, accused of allegedly failing to teach the democratic values of le vivre ensemble (co-existence) and the principle of neutral teaching of religion. The teaching of Islam in public schools in francophone Belgium suddenly became a point of contention rather than evidence of co-existence, leading to a growing suspicion towards teachers of Islam and a heated debate among political parties to remove courses in religion from public schools. Many teachers of Islam have recently engaged with the idea of le vivre ensemble as an Islamic value while navigating increasingly visible challenges: teaching Islam in a political climate that sees it as a threat to national security and responding to controversial education reforms that target courses of Islam. Using ethnographic methods, this research explores how teachers of Islam translate and interact with the values of co-existence and neutrality in an historical moment characterized by rising Islamophobia and extreme-right politics in Belgium as a way to examine the question of Islam in Europe today.